Islamic France and Human Rights

What will an Islamic France be like? We may soon find out. Muslims now make up ten percent of the French population – as well as twenty to thirty percent of those under 25. They’ll be a majority there within twenty-five years if demographic trends continue.

This population is already restive. France seems to be placing all the hope it once placed in the Maginot Line in a strange and seriously flawed idea: that it can contain the forces of Islamic theocracy by outlawing the most innocuous manifestation of Islamic anti-secularism, the headscarf. Protests have erupted all over France, and they have turned ugly. The day after 20,000 Muslims protested the ban, a Jewish school bus was burned and stones were thrown at the synagogue in Strasbourg. Police believe these incidents were connected to the demonstrations.

The French are targeting the headscarf because they understand it is a symbol of something profoundly anti-French, although they don’t seem to grasp exactly what. Consequently their coercive secularism is targeting the symptom rather than the cause. If only French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy had the courage to say, “All right, you can have your headscarf. But to be a citizen of France you must explicitly and definitively renounce for all time the elements of Islamic law – the Sharia – that are at variance with the idea of the equality of rights and dignity of all people.”

What? Shouldn’t we take for granted that Muslims in France and everywhere else accept the ideals of democratic government and equal rights? Stateside, Sarwat Husain of the San Antonio Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter certainly thinks so. In a piece in the San Antonio Express News she dismisses as “extremists” courageous and decent men such as Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson, and declares: “The truth is that Islam is compatible with tolerance, democracy, personal rights and equality before the law.”

Husain never acknowledges that numerous Muslim voices around the world are proclaiming that Islam isn’t compatible with tolerance and democracy. Nor does she have anything to say about Islamic laws that deny women the right to marry without permission from a male guardian, or even to leave the house without permission, or to have their testimony in court valued as equal to that of a man. She is likewise silent about Islamic laws that mandate a special tax (jizya) for non-Muslims, and enforce their second-class status in Islamic societies in numerous ways.

These laws aren’t ancient history. They’re still part of the Islamic law that Muslim radicals are explicitly dedicated to instituting all over the world – including France. It would be refreshing for a Muslim commentator to deal with genuine questions about Islam’s compatibility with Western notions of human rights head-on instead of denying that they exist and charging those who raise them with bigotry. After all, it was a Muslim, the Iranian Sufi Sheikh Sultanhussein Tabandeh, who wrote a book-length critique of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Islamic grounds. Here is just one of many statements from Tabandeh’s critique that should stick in the craw of Kofi Annan: “A public or national apostate is one born in another faith than Islam who accepts Islam and then backslides. . . . If he is obdurate, or all hope of his reconversion vanishes, he must be executed.” Tabandeh is representative of the thinking that gave us the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Afghanistan of the Taliban, and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia – all self-proclaimed “pure” Islamic societies, and hardly beacons of tolerance and individual rights.

Is smearing Pipes and Emerson the best that Husain can do in response? It is perfectly legitimate to wonder if all this is in France’s future. Can Husain assure us that there is no Muslim in France (or America) who shares Tabandeh’s views, or the Taliban’s? Are we to believe that with all those Saudi billions dedicated to spreading Islam, there are no Wahhabis in France? What if the French Muslims who are now protesting the headscarf ban in the name of religious freedom begin to protest the ban on stoning adulterers and amputating thieves’ hands on the same grounds of religious freedom?

“That next century is here,” says Husain. “Let each one of us get actively engaged in learning about and cherishing the best in each other.”

I’m ready when you are, Ms. Husain. But let’s have an honest exchange, free of personal smears and distortions of Islamic theology, history, and the motives of present-day radicals in France and here at home.